The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, is asking Gov. Tom Wolf to immediately authorize the release of the approval letters relating to the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) program, which provides millions of dollars annually in scholarships for low- and middle-income families across the state.
In the absence of a state budget, Wolf has refused to authorize the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) to release the letters. If they are not released immediately, Jewish day schools and non-public schools are in danger of losing an entire year of EITC and OSTC funding.
Jeffrey Sheridan, press secretary for Wolf, said via email that the DCED has been accepting and reviewing all business applications and is ready to issue award letters as soon as the 2015-16 allocation has been approved. Once the allocation is accepted, the tax credit will be written into the fiscal code.
“Without a 2015-16 budget, the DCED cannot issue award letters because it is not yet known what limits will be placed on the amounts of tax credits that we are legally allowed to issue,” Sheridan said. “In the past, certain tax credit allocations were reduced or eliminated as part of a final budget agreement. Again, without a final budget agreement, we do not know what the program limits will ultimately be approved for 2015-16.”
Representatives of the OU and local Jewish day schools attended a rally on Nov. 23 outside the governor’s Philadelphia office, where they called for the release of the tax credit letters.
Aaron Troodler, the Pennsylvania regional director of the OU Advocacy Center, expressed his disgust with the governor.
“The decision to withhold the EITC and OSTC approval letters appears to be arbitrary and capricious,” Troodler said. “The fact is that the EITC and OSTC program should not have been intertwined with the budget process. It is a separate and distinct program that is rooted in the law, not the appropriations process. Despite any assertion to the contrary, there has been and continues to be no legal impediment to the DCED releasing the letters approving the tax credits.”
Troodler noted if the funding is not released, it will affect schoolchildren throughout the state.
“The failure to release the education tax credits is inexcusable, and it is hurting our schools and our students,” Troodler said. “Without these critical education dollars, our schools would suffer, our children would suffer, and the generous businesses that participate in this important program would suffer. We sincerely hope that the governor will authorize the DCED to issue the approval letters before it is too late and millions of dollars are lost. When it comes to our children’s education, we need action, not apathy.”
Jason Cohen writes for the Jewish Exponent.